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Finally seeing my fact checking in person

Scholastic booth display at ALA Annual 2016 with two book covers: Pope Francis and Switzerland

Pope Francis and Switzerland, two books I fact checked at the Scholastic Booth

This year when I went to ALA Annual, I had a chance to see my fact checking work in person and talk to people who know the work. When I walked by the Scholastic booth, I spotted covers of two books that I’d recently fact checked and stopped and stared. They’re in the picture; Pope Francis and Switzerland. When I struck up a conversation with the people at the booth, one of them actually knew Editorial Directions, the company I work for. It was one of the most gratifying moments for a job where the distance between my work and the product is huge.

The next day when I stopped at the booth, I had a longer conversation with another person from Scholastic about fact checking and was able to see and hold two books that I’d fact checked; Vultures and Cybercriminals. Then on Sunday, I think I had a wonderful bonus because for all of these books Scholastic has a website with added information and ebooks providing new ways to access the information.

I’m still smiling when I think of seeing and holding books that I played a part in. Every book that I fact check leaves me with knowledge of new sources and nuggets of facts. I love the process of learning and having a role in the reference materials that students use.

 

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New Lewes Library and Pokemon Go at the old

I’ve joined the masses who are hooked on Pokemon Go and so far its helped me discover places I didn’t know about and start up conversations.

This past Monday,¬† I was volunteering at the beautiful new Lewes Public Library which officially opened on June 20th. Every time that I’ve been in either to help out or to look on my own, the library has been full. On this Monday morning, I began by sharing some of the wonderful posters I picked up at ALA Annual Conference to help decorate the space and discuss Pokemon Go. It turns out that there are two gyms near the library, two PokeStops across the railroad tracks at the old library, one was even at the Children’s Learning Garden where Maureen was headed to for a storytime.

Once Maureen went out to run the storytime, I didn’t have time to think of Pokemon as the Children’s section was busy. In the midst of shelving books, I was answering questions and seeing what the right space can do. There was a group of tween girls discussing book series that they love amid exclamations of ‘Have you read this one?’ Little kids were picking books by pulling them out and finding ones they enjoy. I love a busy library and it did take a while to get the shelving done but it was more important to answer every question.

When I finally left, I stopped by the library sign to check out the PokeStop and got into a conversation with two women in scrubs. I showed them where the PokeStop near the sign was and pointed out which was the Children’s Learning Garden was from where we were. After that, I walked around for a while, catching a few Pokemon before lunch then later stopping behind a motel to find a mural and a PokeStop. I think a lot of the set up of the stops is slightly random other than being in public places but for me, they’re getting me exploring. I’m looking forward to seeing how this game builds interaction in other places.

 

A lovely mural I never knew about but thanks to #pokemongo I found it. #mypictures #instagram

A photo posted by Kate K.F. (@ceitfianna) on Jul 11, 2016 at 12:06pm PDT

 

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Where I don’t have to explain: Yuletide and Chessiecon

As I look forward into this new year, I keep thinking about how powerful it is to have places where I don’t have to explain what I love or why. I’m lucky that for me, most of the times when I have to explain are related to my hobbies but there are times I find myself defending online life, young adult literature and that genre media has value. This is tiring but I feel that its important especially for young people, being told that something that fills you with creativity doesn’t matter can be crushing. As a librarian, I strive to provide this for my patrons whenever I can, taking on the role of explaining to adults that this is why fandom matters.

In my personal life, I miss being close to people of like minds and find myself happiest when I find these connections. In the next year, I’m hoping to move to a part of the country where I don’t have to explain as much and so I can be an advocate for young people feeling as if their likes aren’t seen.

In November and December, I had two experiences where I didn’t have to explain myself that revitalized me. One happens every year, Yuletide, the multi-fandom fanfic exchange that occurs every holiday season, this was my fifth year writing in it and its become a big part of my holidays. The main reason I love it so much is that every story is written as a gift to a stranger in a fandom that’s shared by writer and giftee. This shared knowledge allows for stories that might not normally be written and when the archive is open and all the authors are anonymous, new fandoms are discovered. Every year that I’ve done Yuletide, I’ve stretched myself in terms of my writing as I examine a form of media I love from another angle and find others who adore the same characters and worlds.

After Thanksgiving, I went to Chessiecon, a science fiction/fantasy convention and as soon as I walked in the hotel door, I began to smile. Around me were all the signs of modern fandom; clothing, jewelry, costumes, small and large markers saying I love this world. I was slightly nervous as I’d never attended this con before but I knew that I would meet friends and one of my favorite authors was there. Once I was settled, I sat down to hear first Seanan McGuire and later Tamora Pierce read and answer questions from their fans. Among all these strangers were words and worlds created by authors who cared and I loved it. Later, I met up with my friends and throughout the con there were these moments of sharing and discovering fandoms. A step that’s often present of explaining the love for something was gone because the question was a matter of which fandom and which part and what do you create? I discovered authors, artists and heard discussions that wouldn’t feel out of place in the librarian community.

Yesterday, the Youth Media Awards were announced at ALA Midwinter and as the winners were a diverse mixture, I’ve thought of panels I attended at Chessiecon. One of the best panels was about diversity in young fiction with a focus and to begin with, the authors came from a mix of ethnicities and discussed that there are its important to use all types of diversity and make certain every character feels like a true person. At the moment, I’m dipping in and out of a wonderful anthology of ya lit about girls being engineers that was edited by one of the speakers called Brave New Girls: Tales of Girls and Gadgets and so far all the stories are great. Another panel that was intriguing but didn’t work as well as I think was expected was about young adult literature and what does it mean and how is it changing? The highlight of this entire panel was hearing Tamora Pierce talking about the history of young adult literature as she’s experienced it. It was a big reminder of how many of these distinctions are created publishers and that authors don’t have as much choice as it might seem. Another panel that has been in my mind due to discussions around Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was about the idea of a Mary Sue. Much of what came out of that panel was that Mary Sue is an awkward label, that has outgrown its origins within the Star Trek fandom and the part that matters is to create well rounded and complicated characters.

I hope in the next year to find places where I can be among people that I don’t have to explain and where I can discover new angles on the world. A reason I’m a librarian and active in fandom is because in both places, there’s a joy in sharing what’s loved and an openness in finding something new that someone else loves.

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Books, reaching out and learning

Life for me has been full with substituting and fact-checking, both of them are constantly teaching me new information about kids and the world out there. My last fact-checking job ended up being more emotionally draining as I was working on a book about Yemen, which has amazing history and so much turmoil. I’m glad to have learned what I did so I can better understand what’s happening but searching through images for illustrations was difficult. The juxtaposition of beautiful buildings and then rubble of the same area captured the damage being done left me shaken and scared for everyone who lived there. In terms of the substituting, every day is different, which is exciting but tiring as I want to be a good teacher and para for these kids though I’m only there for one or maybe two days. When I connect and see that I’ve helped a student understand is wonderful but other days, I wonder if I made any difference. Most days are a mixture of seeing what’s possible in a great classroom and not knowing all of the context to be as much help as I could be.

I’m also doing what I can to become more involved with ALA by volunteering for some committees. ALA is so important and daunting to me, that I’m trying to put myself out there and do what I can to support all libraries and find where I best fit within ALA.

What I finished reading

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. I love Rowell’s books and Carry On was fantastic as she really understands what it is about the Chosen One stories and fantasy that draw people in and how to turn it all on its head. This is a book about two boys who take control of their story even though the story isn’t encouraging them to and their friends who are along with them. I would recommend this book to everyone who loves Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, but wishes for more.

What I’m currently reading

The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan. I always enjoy Riordan’s books and this one isn’t disappointing, he’s got a great ear for dialogue, action and how kids behave. I appreciate that he’s gotten much better about putting diversity into his casts and understanding that diversity covers a wide range from being homeless to being Deaf.

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo. At this point, I’m not terribly far into this book and I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. I enjoy the setting and the main character has a good voice but so far, she seems fairly passive. I’m hoping more will happen as so far, there’s not much of a conflict or romance, but I like the author’s style.

What I’m reading next

One of the books I’m reading next is for Yuletide so I’m not going to list it but I’m looking forward to it. Yuletide is a wonderful fanfiction exchange that’s tied to small fandoms and is a major part of my holiday season. I love writing for other people and how Yuletide always ends up stretching my sense of what I think I can write. I also have the newest Jonathan Stroud Lockwood and Company book to read, which should be fun and creepy. The Rehoboth Film Festival is coming up next week, so far this year I’m not seeing a huge amount of films, I know there will be one or two that really stick with me.

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ALA Midwinter

Since leaving Chicago, there’s been a great deal of snow in many places. In some ways, that’s been wonderful, as after I left Chicago, I went to visit friends and stayed inside just reading. Sadly though where I live in Delaware, a lot of snow isn’t the norm and its made life a complicated. This has made substituting a little confusing but workable. I’ve been thinking a lot about Midwinter since leaving and now feel ready to write up my thoughts.

My Midwinter this year felt as if it was all about connections across the library world and the various worlds that I inhabit from seeing my childhood on stage with LeVar Burton’s speech to talking classics at an exhibit booth. One of my absolute favorite parts of Midwinter or Annual is the exhibit hall, because its possible to understand how diverse and huge libraries truly are. It feels like every time I go to a conference, the diversity of people and interests is brought more to the fore and it makes me happy. This year it was made explicit in wonderful ways such as the Day of Diversity, I wasn’t able to attend any of the events but followed a number of attendees on Twitter. A favorite panel that I went to combined a lot of my loves and why I enjoy the exhibit hall since I hadn’t planned on going to it but found myself sitting there. This was the Dark Fantasy panel at the Pop Top Stage which featured Fonda Lee, Ken Liu, Auden D. Johnson and Sabaa Tahir, which was thoughtful about why we read fantasy, what makes fantasy dark, how nice it is to have a fandom and how the authors write. It felt hopeful to hear authors comfortably discussing fandom, how its working within their lives and how they hope their works will fit into fandom. Also to hear them talking about the role of diversity especially within fantasy worlds. All of their books are high in my to be read pile.

Seeing LeVar Burton on Sunday morning was a powerful reminder of why I’ve chosen to be a librarian as he’s proof of the reach of books and reading. He spoke about his mentors from his mother to Alex Haley to Fred Rogers, through them it was possible to see how he grew and changed through his life and is still learning. Part of his talk was presenting a new book that he’s written called The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Its an amazing book about dealing with loss and how depression can hit everyone and to hear it read by him was a gift. I found his reading and talk inspiring as he spoke about how he’s still learning and finding ways to make sure that children everywhere have access to books. During the question period, every person spoke about how he inspired them and taught them from helping with a second language to seeing some of their own life reflected up on Reading Rainbow. When I left, it was with the reminder that touching someone’s life can be done in a lot of ways and as a librarian, I can open doors.

It felt like perfect timing that after hearing him speak, I went to the ALA Joblist Open House which was one of the biggest I’ve been to in my three years of conferences. The set up was more relaxed as well since the libraries were at small tables which made it easier to talk and not feel as if there was such a clear line in the form of a large table. That can be intimidating at times as I’ve found myself not always at ease to approach but with this set up, it felt informal and welcoming. I had a great number of wonderful conversations and again was struck by the simple diversity of what a library can mean from academic libraries to independent schools.

Speaking of school libraries, another strange intersection was when Carney Sandoe, the independent school job agency I’m connected to had a booth next to YALSA and there was also a booth of wonderful child friendly furniture. This meant that after I volunteered at the YALSA booth, which is always a pleasure to interact with fellow youth librarians, I could talk to my Carney Sandoe connection. After that I walked one more booth over to pick up a catalog full of furniture possibilities for the new Lewes’ library children’s section. Moments like that are why I adore the exhibit hall, how sometimes just by chance, disparate elements of my library experience are suddenly right next to each other.

I ended Midwinter with the Morris’ awards which were slightly subdued due to weather so only four out of ten authors were actually present. The rest of them had video presentations which were fascinating. A lot of my reading directly after Midwinter on the train to Michigan was from the Morris and Nonfiction awards. I’m going to end by recommending a few of the books that have truly stood out to me of the ones I’ve read so far from my Midwinter haul. All links go to my Goodreads’ reviews.

The Story of Owen and its sequel Prairie Fire. Owen’s world is one of the finest alternate histories that I’ve read with dragons inserted in such a way that the process of history all makes sense. These books remind me of when I read Seraphina and how I wanted to give a copy to everyone I knew. That’s how I feel about these because the characters are complex and real, the setting is fascinating and the language of the writing is beautiful.

Tommy: The Gun that Changed America was an interesting read about gun violence and gun control in American history. Before reading this book, I hadn’t realized how many gun laws were tied to particular issues with gangsters and times of violence. An aspect that impressed me a great deal about this book was how the back was organized to make it easy for the readers to find and understand the sources used. Its something I would like to see done more often as it makes the idea of reading a bibliography less daunting when the author presents the sources under useful headings.

The Port Chicago 50 about a time when racism in the armed forces put a number of men behind bars. This is one of those books that wasn’t easy to read because it deals honestly with the segregation and racism that went on during World War II and the cost of it to America. A cost that we’re still paying the price of and dealing with. An aspect of this book that has stayed with me is how its a reminder that history is never a simple starting point, the discrimination during World War II helped to give tools that made it possible for the Civil Rights Movement to achieve what it did. Also that the tools of change haven’t altered that much through the decades.

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Upgrading and new angles

I’ve begun this new year with the sense of upgrading as I prepare to head to Chicago for ALA Midwinter with a new phone and shoes, which allow me to clear away what isn’t working. As I improve what I can, I have a moment to reflect on what’s been coming together for me and what is to come. A major theme in my last couple of months has been the chance to approach the world from new angles. ALA Midwinter will be another wonderful opportunity to do that and if any of my fellow librarians who follow me across social media will be there, drop me a line on whatever platform works best for you and let’s see about meeting.

In November, the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival was held and I had the chance to experience a number of films where I as an American wasn’t the primary audience. This is one of my favorite parts of going to film festivals and reading books that focus on experiences outside of my own. I saw two films that stuck with me and that I’ve been recommending since November which I want to mention here.

The first one is Lilting, a beautiful and complex film about the death of a young man and how his mother and his partner try to process it through difficulties of language and experience. I recently discovered through NPR that this film was actually financed by Film London’s Microwave Project that works to promote diverse films.

 

The other film that stayed with me was about Simon Bolivar and called The Liberator, its a glorious, epic movie, but what made such an impression to me was how little I knew. So much of the history it was assumed that the audience simply knew in the same way that would be true for an American watching a film like Lincoln. I love coming out of a film with a desire to learn more and see how much I don’t know and I look forward to reading more about Simon Bolivar.

 

I’ve also fact-checked a few more books and along the way found some great resources. I love fact-checking because it gives me a chance to go down fascinating research pathways that are incredibly site specific and find ways to learn the information from the primary sources. A type of site that I’m always happy to find are tribal websites for Native American tribes such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians,¬†which allow me to find their history without the bias that comes from an outside source. For a book, I was able to explore the journals of all the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, they’re posted here by the University of Nebraska. The internet provides wonderful examples of ways to connect to the original sources as much as possible which in terms of history is key as history is constantly being reexamined.

The other area of my life that has provided some new angles is that I’ve begun to work part time as a substitute teacher in the local school district. My first assignment sent me into an elementary school classroom which is a world I’m not completely familiar with. It turned out to be exciting and I realized that it was a place that I understood better than I realized. I found that from storytimes, I had a good sense of how to keep busy children on topic and that the rushing and then pause of the day felt like when I had worked as a school librarian. I’m eager to go into more classrooms and perhaps a few libraries since teaching has always been a part of my life. One reason is because that sense of helping a child or a patron understand something they hadn’t before never ever gets old. The moment that happened in the classroom was teaching a young boy how sentences fit together into paragraphs.

I know that in Chicago, there will be many moments of finding unexpected ways to look at what it means to be a librarian and a reader. An added benefit is that I’ll be traveling by train and so will see the country from a new angle.

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ALA Midwinter-Seeing where I fit in

January 24th to 28th was ALA Midwinter and held in Philadelphia, which meant I was able to go and explore more of how I fit into the huge organization that is ALA. Due to the kindness of geography, I’ve now attended both an Annual and Midwinter conference and they’ve helped me to understand better where I fit into the diverse world of librarians. At this conference, I participated in a few events that to me summed up this issue of understanding what I want to make of ALA. Also I want to talk about Philadelphia, which is the city of my heart.

To begin with, I grew up outside Philadelphia in Swarthmore, Philly has always been the city of my life. After I graduated college, I interned for a year at a museum on Penn’s Landing and spent months taking the train to Market East and then walking out to the river. I’ve stood on Market street and froze while the Mummers marched by and worried about missing the last train home after being out on South Street. For this visit, I was staying with my brother in New Jersey and so took one of the commuter lines back and forth, that meant I did miss out on some social aspects of the conference, but did see my family. Also the only reasons I’ve had for going to the Convention Center were mainly to see the Philadelphia Flower Show. To see all of the ALA signage and publishers that I’d last seen in Chicago in my own city was strange and wonderful, it helped me feel more like ALA was more a part of my life.

Now to begin with the events that made this conference click for me. The first was that I went in to see the opening of the exhibit hall which I had missed in Chicago due to attending an alumni reception for the University of Michigan School of Information. This year, I was there when the doors were opened and it was a great beginning to my conference as I had a few wonderful moments of different worlds crossing. First I found the booth for YALSA where I would volunteer on Saturday morning and will speak about next.

Then I came upon the Harry Potter Alliance, a wonderful organization that channels the energy of fandom into social action. I knew of them because a dear friend who works in politics has been involved with them for a long time and it turns out the people there knew of her. This was their first time at an ALA conference and it seemed a highly successful one considering that the wizard activist ribbons they were handing out were highly popular. In the same aisle, I spotted SFWA or the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, who were also first time exhibitors, as a reader of many SFF blogs and writers, I’m aware of their work. It was nice to see them connecting with librarians though I was surprised that they hadn’t exhibited before. I went home with books in my wonderful conference bag and a sense that the conference was reaching out in interesting ways to fandom. There was also a quintet of Mummers strutting around the exhibit hall which made me grin like mad. Below is not the best picture but captures their energy and the feel of the opening.

Mummers' performers

Mummers at Midwinter

Saturday morning after a cold wait at the PATCO station, I arrived at the opening of the exhibit hall to volunteer for two hours at the YALSA booth. This was probably one of the best choices I’ve ever made connected to ALA. I was able to see the traffic going by, talk to anyone who was curious about YALSA; long-time members, students, and see how much of a community exists. 9 to 10 was quiet as many people were at meetings, but at 10, I was joined by another volunteer and by the time I left at 11, there was a crowd of librarians and friends at the booth. It was great to see friends meeting up and colleagues discussing the swiftly changing world of young adult librarianship. I’m going to work to become more involved in YALSA, because they’re a huge part of where the world of libraries are going.

After lunch with a relative, I headed to the Best Fiction for Young Adults teen session, which was amazing. The teen session is where local teens from a school or library come and talk to librarians about their thoughts on the long list of possible books for inclusion into the Best Fiction for Young Adults’ list. I learned what books the kids were reading and clearly recommending to each other because many books were talked about by multiple books. Those works brought about interesting moments as it was obvious which ones were loved, which ones kids’ thoughts depended on their own preferences. There were few that were truly hated, most of the time, a book didn’t work for someone, which was informative as if there was time, they explained why. It was a great reminder of how aware many kids are of what they like and don’t like and what’s good writing. I didn’t stay for the entire time, but most of it as I wanted to talk to the Joblist, then home for a Robert Burns’ supper.

The next major event that felt to me as if it had snuck in from a different sort of convention was waiting in line to get a copy of Fangirl signed by Rainbow Rowell. I wasn’t even aware of this signing until Friday, but due to having a friend who follows her on Twitter, I was one of the early ones in line. Macmillian press did a great job organizing the signing, everyone got a piece of paper that assured them a signed copy. In theory that meant we could have left and come back but most of us chose to lean against the back wall and hang out. There’s a vibe that you get when everyone’s waiting for a chance to meet someone who’s books matter to them, a friendly camaraderie that made the time go quickly. Most of us were reading or talking with friends and all of us were hauling about bags loaded down with books, because we were librarians. Then Rainbow Rowell was a joy and her entire backlist and new book are high on my to-read pile.

The final event I attended was the Morris’ awards and Nonfiction awards presentation that was done after the announcement of the winners of the Youth Media Awards. Since the announcements started at 8 am, I followed them on my Twitter, which was such fun. All the librarians, publishers, authors, bloggers and various book news’ outlets were sharing the winners in different ways. I was able to see some of the same energy when I got to the convention center as the noise spilled out of the various rooms where the announcements were going on.

Later, the winners of the Morris awards for the Debut fiction and Nonfiction award for young adults spoke in a different space and were available for signing. Two of the speeches left a great impression on me and made me even more conscious of the kind of librarian that I wish to be. Carrie Mesrobian, the author of Sex and Violence, spoke about how growing up she was a library rat. As a child, she was involved in many activities and then as a teen would do her own research but rarely spoke to librarians. Now she sees how those librarians made sure the books she wanted were there and that she wished more activities had been available. It was a powerful reminder of how sometimes a library can do a huge amount by just being there. The other speech that hit home was by Elizabeth Ross author of Belle Epoque, she spoke about how in her family, her sister was seen as the bookish one and that her brother didn’t read a great deal. When she decided that she wanted to write a book, she had to go against these expectations that she had internalized of herself as not a reader. Its so easy to implant these ideas when adults talk to kids and air their own perceptions instead of leaving kids space to define themselves. As a librarian and an educator, I think one of the key jobs I have is to provide resources for kids to explore, to listen and especially to let them tell me who they are.

It took me some time to put these thoughts together because ALA and its conferences have many layers and as a newer librarian, I’m still working out how I fit inside the organization. I feel like in Philadelphia, I was able to find my feet and get a better idea of how as a youth librarian, I can be part of the future of libraries. To end, here’s a picture of the Delaware River that I saw as I headed back to New Jersey and my regular life.

Philadelphia Waterfront

Philadelphia Waterfront

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